Sunday, September 23, 2007

Nine Things Your Child Needs, part one: Intentional Intercessory Prayer

When I've asked parents of spiritually thriving kids what their secret is, more often than not, they've first answered: "PRAYER". And more often than not, they've said it with a sigh and a chuckle, as if to say, "It wasn't anything we did - God's just come through...and we sure needed it!"

Of course they have done other things, whether they realize it or not, which becomes apparent the deeper you dig. And of course - as also becomes apparent - they have prayed. Which makes prayer a good place to start.

We're reminded of the incredible parable in Luke 18 where a widow keeps coming to the town judge, asking for relief from her enemies. The hard-hearted judge refuses at first because he had no concern for her, or for justice. Yet, eventually, he gives in to her persistent pleading and grants what she asks, so that she'll go away and stop asking! Jesus continues:

"Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

Often, parables are open to a wide range of interpretation, but not here; Luke himself lays out the purpose at the start of the story: "Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up..." The parable should not be read to mean that God is like the unjust judge - either that he is reckless in his concern for people or that he answers prayer just because he's tired of hearing us ask and wants us to go away!

Rather, Jesus' point is that if the mind of a callous judge who does not fear God can be changed by persistence, and that persistence is the product of faith, then shouldn't we hold at least as strong a faith in approaching the God of the universe, who will deliver justice according to his promise? The parable, it turns out, is about us, not God, and Jesus ends with the stinger: "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" In other words, do you really believe the promises of God, and do you believe Him to be who He says He is? Because if you do, you will pray!

Viewed in this way, it becomes clear that the parable isn't teaching that prayer produces anything, but that it is an expression of faith. The widow asked because she hoped - perhaps without reason - that the judge would grant her request; if we "pray and not give up" it is because we have not lost faith.

When he comes back, will Jesus find that faith in you? In me?

The call to pray for our kids, then, cannot be de-linked from submission to the idea that God knows what he's doing. Sometimes parents accept that resignedly - "God knows what he's doing, but I have no idea" - and they lose heart in prayer because what they're asking for isn't apparently going to happen anytime soon. It takes a spiritually discerning person to see your child through spiritual eyes - particularly when it seems your child is making decisions that would set them at odds with God's will for them. You have to keep returning to the "faith bedrock" that is the foundation of praying for anyone:

1. Each person is accountable to God for the life they've lived in the body (Romans 14:12, 2 Cor. 5:10, Hebrews 4:13, 1 Peter 4:5)
2. God has called them out of darkness, into his light (1 Peter 2:9)
3. God's revelation has been unmistakeable (Romans 1)
4. God is patient with people, wanting their repentance and not their destruction (2 Peter 3:9)
5. God has given us the ministry of reconciliation - bringing God to people to people to God (2 Cor. 5:18-19)
6. Suffering is a part of the Christian life (Phil. 1:29, Romans 8:18-39)

Kids need regular prayer intercession on their behalf because it will keep you grounded! Sadly, God doesn't promise that every child will answer his call. Nor does he promise that every prodigal will return. But he does assure us that he is at work - not aloof, not preoccupied, not ignorant or unaware, not uncaring. Your child has learning difficulties and hates school? God is at work. Your child is socially ostracized? God is at work. Your child is destroying the peace in your home? God is at work. Your child struggles to keep up athletically with her more gifted peers? God is at work. Your child is hedonistic and self-indulgent? God is at work.

Not only does prayer need to be regular for kids, but the prayer burden also needs to be shared. This is scary to some people - a stranger (or sometimes worse, a friend) is being brought in on the "family business". Will they gossip? Will they judge? Will they take the request seriously? But I would submit that having others pray for your child's needs - spiritually, emotional, and material - is an essential component of surrendering those needs to God. When we "keep things just between God and us", it's a way of hanging onto worries, resolving to diligently work through them, rather than giving them over. The fear of not wanting to bother someone else with "your" problems can also keep people from asking for prayer. But, every prayer intercessor I've ever known would be honored to be asked - that's why they do what they do!

At North Coast Calvary Chapel, a prayer tent is staffed during all of the weekend services. A prayer team also meets at the church during the day on Fridays. Our pastoral staff prays together weekly. There is a prayer gathering for NCCC and the community on Monday nights, and another an hour before weekend services (5:00 Saturday and 7 am Sunday). Two prayer intercessors have specifically told me since summer that they desire to pray for elementary-aged students. How can they pray for you? How can we pray for each other?

Factor #1: Intentional Intercessory Prayer
Key Question: How many other people are praying for my child's spiritual, emotional, and material well-being?